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The Gentle Movements, Deep Breaths and Supportive Community of YWCA MS Yoga

By Cori Mattli, YWCA Minneapolis Strategic Communications Specialist
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The studio is lit with a warm yellow glow and calming music floats throughout as the class gets started. The instructor, Bess, begins to softly call out movements: “Sweep your arms to the sky,” she says, and the room follows.

Next, the group is led through breathing exercises, mild twists and long, therapeutic stretches. The class has elements of restorative yoga – they hold gentle postures for long increments, with the assistance of pillows, bolsters and blankets. They also focus on muscle strengthening and maintaining balance. Bess says they practice visualization exercises and other mindfulness activities, too.

Participants Who’ve Attended for Nearly 20 Years

Bess started teaching MS Yoga at YWCA Uptown a few months ago and she says she’s working on filling the “big shoes” of the instructor who came before her. MS Yoga is a bit of an institution at YWCA Uptown – some people have been attending for nearly 20 years.

But ask participants why they’ve been coming for so long, and you’ll get a mix of answers. For one participant, it’s the slow, soothing movements that help them feel more flexible. For another, it’s the community and seeing the same welcoming faces each week. Another participant gets the most out of the mindfulness exercises.

Yoga for People with Disabilities and Everyone Else

The class isn’t just for people with multiple sclerosis (MS). Bess says lots of people find a home in the class – people with disabilities, people with injuries or people who are just looking for a slower-paced, more meditative class.

Safe Movements and Mindfulness

“Most yoga classes aren’t right for me. This one is,” says Pat, who’s been attending the class for about six years. After a hip replacement, Pat says she likes the safe movements of the class that help her feel less stiff, more fluid. The mindfulness exercises help her too. “I think my mind’s pretty busy a lot of the time,” says Pat. “The class helps me not be stuck in my head.”

Another participant, Terry, started coming to the class when he was diagnosed with MS years ago. “When I first started the class, it freed my movement, made me lighter on my feet,” says Terry. But, as his symptoms started getting worse, he stopped noticing any difference physically. But he kept coming back for the meditative elements, like chanting.

A Community Emphasis

Bess says that one unique part of MS Yoga is the check-in that they do mid-hour. Between movements, everyone sits upright to say their name, how they are feeling that day and offer any life updates they want to share. “We emphasize community in the class,” says Bess. She also says it helps her get to know each person, learn what their goals and challenges are, and helps her to tailor the class to better fit participants’ needs.

In a world where many yoga classes are focused on cardio or for a younger demographic, those who attend MS Yoga say they are glad to have found it. “It just makes sense for YWCA to have classes for people who are older or without as many of the abilities or strengths as others,” says Pat.

MS Yoga classes are held every Tuesday and Thursday, 12:00 pm to 12:55 pm at YWCA Uptown.

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